The New ACCME FAQ: Can We Share Faculty Lists With Commercial Supporters?

Dear Mr. The CME Guy,

Since you are clearly the most knowledgeable, insightful, and – dare I say, dashing? – CME consultant in the Northwest Philadelphia region, I am hoping you can help clear up a situation that has cropped up for me recently. One of the accredited CME provider’s that I frequently partner with just told me that they are no longer providing the names of faculty when they submit grant applications for CME programs. They claim that this is due to a recent announcement from the ACCME, but I have no idea what they’re talking about. My question to you is: what up with that?

Signed,

Perplexed in Poughkeepsie

*****

Dear Perplexed,

Thank you for your not-at-all-made-up-as -a-device-for-a-blog-post email. Indeed, the issue of whether or not it is OK to include a list of faculty in CME grant submissions has gotten a bit muddled recently. The genesis of this discussion is likely the announcement from the American Academy of Physician’s Assistant’s that they would “no longer accredit CME talks receiving grant support from BI (Boehringer Ingelheim).” In that announcement, the AAPA states:

Anytime a grant application asks for the names of faculty, as BI’s currently does, it is out of compliance and cannot be accredited for CME.

This was news to many of us in the CME community as we, like you, were not aware that supplying faculty names when required to do so in grant applications was considered out of compliance with the ACCME’s Standards for Commercial Support. I talked with a number of experienced CME professionals about this issue and while some of them had stopped supplying faculty names due to their own internal policies, none of them was aware that doing so was a matter of noncompliance. There was also not a direct reference to this specific issue on the ACCME’s website. In an effort to clarify this matter, I – and I would imagine others, though I do not know that for certain – sent an email to the ACCME asking for guidance as to the compliance of providing faculty names in grant applications.

The response I received from the ACCME directed me to this recently created FAQ, that asks the question:

Can providers be required by potential commercial supporters to share the list of expected authors or speakers with commercial supporters, during the process of applying for an educational grant?

The short answer from the ACCME is “no”, confirming the statement from the AAPA’s announcement. However, I believe there are still two fairly important questions related to this issue that remain unanswered:

  1. What is the status of CME-certified activities for which funding was previously received via grant applications that required a list of faculty? Will they be considered noncompliant?
  2. Is it OK for CME providers to voluntarily provide a list of potential faculty names in a grant proposal/application? The ACCME’s FAQ specifically only mentions cases where a faculty list is required. This is splitting hairs, I realize, but it is a question that has been asked of me by a number of people.

I have attempted to follow-up with the ACCME for a response to these two questions, but have been unsuccessful in receiving a definitive answer. As such, I am left to form my own opinions, which is more fun anyway. As to the answer for Question #1, I really have no idea. A colleague of mine stated that she believes the best approach is to simply document that you did not make changes to your faculty based on a grant request, and move on. I tend to agree with her.

As to Question #2, I refer you to the ACCME’s response to the question “How should an accredited CME provider respond to a request by a commercial supporter to review materials for an upcoming CME activity?” It’s very similar to their response to the question about faculty lists (“No CME reason…”). Note that they only specifically mention the commercial supporter requesting the content review, but never mention a provider asking the commercial supporter to do a review. Again, similar to the faculty response. How many of us, though, believe that it’s OK for a CME provider to ask a commercial supporter to do a content review? My point is, I don’t think the ACCME is splitting hairs and saying it’s OK to supply a faculty list voluntarily, you just can’t do it if required to. I think, like content reviews, they’re saying you shouldn’t do it, period. But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

I apologize for such a long-winded answer, but hope this has you feeling a little less perplexed in Poughkeepsie.

Kind regards,

Derek

 

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6 responses to “The New ACCME FAQ: Can We Share Faculty Lists With Commercial Supporters?

  1. Thank you, Derek. I had the same questions in mind that you identified.

    From my own experience, typically, a list of potential faculty serves as a means for demonstrating the provider’s experience with and/or knowledge of the KOLs/SMEs/thought leaders in a given tx area or disease state. Obviously, the value of such a list is determined by the individual supporters, but, hopefully, it is not the primary basis for a funding decision.

    However, thinking about this issue triggered a different question for me: Even if no proposed faculty list is included in a grant proposal, if a provider includes quotes/statements in their grant proposal and attributes them to a specific KOL/SME/thought leader, is that considered the same thing as providing a faculty list? Sometimes the quotes/statements from thought leaders help to elucidate and/or reinforce a particular issue or practice gap and that can be as impactful as a reference from the peer-reviewed literature.

    In raising this question I hope I am not courting controversy–but it is intriguing to me because it speaks to the quality of the content and level of effectiveness that can be achieved within a grant proposal if rules are too limiting.

  2. Michael Baffuto

    As a provider, I have no problem providing potential grantors with a list of proposed faculty. As Greselda said, it is an opportunity to demonstrate some knowledge/experience in a given disease area. We all know these opportunities are few and far between these days. We’re asking supporters to provide significant support for our CME activities. I think its only fair that we demonstrate our extent of knowledge in an area.

    The issue Greselda raised is something that has irked me: at what point do the “rules” become so limiting that a grant request cannot adequately demonstrate the potential effectiveness of the activity and the capabilities of the provider to implement the proposed activity? I would argue that being able to identify the experts in a particular disease area should be a basic requirement for receiving grant funding.

    That’s my opinion. Here’s my interpretation: standard 1.1 states (I’m paraphrasing) that faculty must be selected independent of the commercial supporter. When we submit a grant, we essentially say here is an activity we have designed. Here are the gaps, needs, methods, planned outcomes, intended participants, agenda, and objectives. Will you support this? The decision to support is left up to the commercial supporter. The policies are very cut and dry on whether the provision of funding obligates a provider to change any of those items. They do not, and in fact a provider would very clearly be in violation of ACCME criteria if they did. Faculty members fall under that same criterion. Providing faculty lists does not give the supporter the opportunity to decide who participates or dictate changes. If I were surveying on the part of the ACCME, I would find a decision of compliance with SCS 1.1 in a case where a provider offered a proposed faculty list to a supporter.

    And now I’ve gone on much longer than I meant too :) Thanks for the read!

  3. Thank you for your comments; you both raise very valid points that I really can’t argue against. My hope is that someday when issues of compliance are raised, the default response is to have trust and faith in those developing the CE programs and not to rely on increased regulations. I’m not sure this current model is sustainable in the direction it is currently heading.

    Michael- I believe your interpretation is similar to that of many others (though, not all) in the CME community, which is why the announcement from the AAPA took us by surprise. After this FAQ though, I’m not sure that your “surveyor finding” of proposed faculty lists being compliant is still accurate. It definitely isn’t when required by a grant application. If given voluntarily, I don’t know…

  4. Hopping on the band wagon here…I understand the point that a commercial supporter cannot require a faculty list. However, I must say that I was taken aback that the interpretation by certain groups that this is for some kind of nefarious purpose. Generally speaking if those names are included it helps us commercial supporter folk understand if you know the disease areas and whether there are company relationships that must be disclosed to the provider. That’s pretty much it.
    In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to realistically erase all names from grant applications. Many of the requests received are for multi-support of regional/local conferences where brochures are already printed, planning is in full swing, and websites are populated with agendas. The information is already public knowledge. Do we reject requests for excellent education simply because the applicant includes a copy of the conference brochure or agenda? That does not make sense either.
    Personally I think this should be in the provider’s hands and not in the supporter requirements (aligns with ACCME) – does the provider have a reason to include faculty information? If they think so and it is their choice then I think that’s OK.
    To the point Greselda made about KOL/SME/thought leader input into the needs assessment that gets a bit tricky. Say the KOL/SME/thought leader is a paid consultant to the proposed commercial supporter – and extensively so. Is the needs assessment independent? Does the provider need to include a conflict of interest identification/resolution process and peer review of the needs assessment up front? I have been engaged in some spirited discussions around this issue. Not so much when there are a couple of quotes from clinicians and some happen to be consultants as well – more when the identified educational need and objectives relies heavily on input from someone who is a paid consultant. Yes I am wayyyyy off topic here but it’s an interesting one to ponder.

  5. I am not a provider or grantor but work for a society and recently submitted a grant for support of our annual medical conference…I was notified that it was denied by this specific pharma company because I inadvertently included our faculty in one of the documents and apparently, some of them have been paid speakers of this company. After asking for clarification, they explained it was due to a lawsuit/settlemen. However, other pharma companies’ grant portals also state “do not include faculty names.” I will be more careful next time.

  6. I’ve always figured that if I could justify and document the expertise of the faculty on the basis of certain criteria, I could defend my list of possible faculty. i have a standard process, and include a blurb in the grant request, along with the names, and so far, so good. Usually some weasel words [eg, 'of similar caliber' or 'with similar experience and credentials"] are included because we don’t confirm faculty before we have funding.

    Having a standard algorithm for faculty selection has [so far] sat well with the ACCME. And it’s important that funders know that we understand the field, have some contacts, and in general know what we’re doing [from both the content and project perspectives]. It’s also a source of some comfort that we can find appropriate experts without resorting to asking.

    But different funders have different perspectives on this issue – and if a potential funder doesn’t want to see faculty names, the names are deleted, but the blurb about the standard process remains.

    My two cents about about expert opinions – It’s a nice touch to have, but to tell the truth, I prefer to have the opinion backed up with a reference or two [even if it's just a newspaper article from a different region], or at least seconded by another opinion, especially when trying to get funding for a national activity.

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